The Search for Halaal

Originally posted on

Diaries of a South African Muslimah in the USA

“O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and wholesome in the earth, and follow not the footsteps of the devil. Lo! He is an open enemy for you”

Surah Al-Baqarah – Verse 168

Alhamdulilah, my husband was fortunate to be granted admission to study at Harvard University in the United States of America. After much deliberation, we decided to embark on this journey of learning, mindful of the fact that with it would come many challenges.

In addition to the task of packing the material possessions of our relatively young married life together, a few thoughts lingered in our minds. The biggest concern centered on Ramadaan in the USA and finding halaal food – would it be easy or difficult?

Alhamdulilah, Ramadaan or the preparations for Ramadhaan, is simple when you’re in South Africa. We are quite fortunate to be able to walk down Fordsburg’s Mint Road after Taraweeh and grab a bite to eat from the many stores lining up the street, confident in the knowledge that what we are eating is halaal. We have halaal butchers in most cities and towns in South Africa, which is a great help when your preference is to cook rather than to eat out.

In addition to that, being of Indian descent, we have our mothers, in Typical Indian Mother Fashion; constantly trying to send us samoosa’s and pies to see us through the fasting month.

Even though Ramadaan is supposed to be more spiritually-focused, the initial period of this Ramadaan turned out to be food-focused simply because we were in a foreign land where we weren’t sure if what we were eating was correctly sourced in terms of Islamic law. We couldn’t take much food with us mainly because we were concerned that it would spoil during the 17 hour flight to the US and also because we weren’t as well versed as we should have been with what we could carry on airlines for trips across the Atlantic. Through the Grace of God and with the help of fellow expat South African’s and American Facebook users, we managed to find a nearby Mosque and the Halaal butcher relatively easily.

We are told that the wider Boston area has a large Muslim community. We are in Cambridge, which is a city across the Charles River from Boston. In getting acquainted with the area, we’ve discovered that some restaurants will readily tell you that their meat is halaal or zabihah, yet they serve alcohol on the premises as well. A conversation with the friendly Egyptian owner of the butchery revealed that most restaurants who claim to be halaal, whether the meat is indeed slaughtered according to Islamic rites or not, are pressured by non Muslims into serving alcohol on their premises fearful that their businesses will suffer financially if they don’t.

The alcohol issue has been brought up with the owners of these establishments, but unfortunately there is no regulatory body in the greater Boston area to ensure compliance. Alhamdullilah, there is good news: there are a few establishments who refuse to buckle to the pressures of society and maintain a strict No Alcohol/Pork policy on their premises and in the preparation of their food.

Back home, the concern over what to prepare during Ramadhaan was not a cause for concern in my home, mainly because the fact that we are often spoilt for choice with samoosa’s and pies and other delicious savouries often gifted by mothers and aunts.

Alhamdulilah, my husband always preferred that I spend my time reading Quraan and performing my Salaah instead of cooking. This trip to the USA has crystallized the thought that has always lingered in my mind, namely; that Ramadaan is not meant to be about filling ourselves up with deep-fried yummies or engagement in the constant battle of food preparation.

In South Africa we grow up with the notion that to “prepare food” for Ramadaan is a must and a lot of women go out of their way before Ramadaan to prepare special savouries for the month, when the time could be spent, as the Prophet (PBUH) did, invoking Allah for the blessings of Rajab and Shabaan. A lot of the “traditional” food we eat in Ramadaan is filled with fat and oil and even though they are quite delicious, we know that we can’t stop at “just one”. Sometimes we’ve eaten four or five samoosa’s, drunk copious amounts of sweetened milk and more often than not, this gluttonous behaviour leads to sloth, with the end result being that our Ibaadah suffers. We should strive to seek the healthier alternatives to be able to have the energy to read Quraan, perform our Salaah and engage in the remembrance of our Creator.

As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to be able to have a Ramadaan in Makkah and Madinah. I will always remember the ifthaar’s in the Holy Land with fondness. The simple meal at ifthaar in the Mosque of the Prophet (PBUH), consisting of dates, Arabic coffee, Zam Zam water, yoghurt and a bread roll was indeed my best ifthaar. I often wish to implement that in some way or try to use the same ideology to our daily ifthaar. Consequently, this year my husband and I have decided that we are going to attempt to stick to nutritional, healthy food which will benefit us during this Ramadaan. However, completely abstaining from something that you are quite used to can be difficult and admittedly, a few chilli bites now and then cannot harm your diet or more importantly your Ibadaah. After all, everything in moderation, right? ☺

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